Artist: Yage (FSOL)
Title: The Woodlands of Old
Label: FSOLdigital, Jumpin’ & Pumpin’
Format: digital, CD
Genre: Abstract, Ambient, Experimental
Yage, at the time this album was released, was the second alias that FSOL had resurrected from dormancy. The Yage project is a very curious one. It first surfaced to serve as an alias or a fictional being, credited as being the band’s producer, occasional writer and technician in the early 90s. It appeared mainly on pre-FSOL recordings, such as Mental Cube’s “Q”, Smart Systems, Art Science Technology, Semi Real, Metropolis and others. Yage also would appear in the credits for many later FSOL releases. Although, the Yage project did get a physical release of its own in 1992 outside of the Pulse EPs and the Earthbeat compilation: the “Fuzzy Logic EP.”
“Fuzzy Logic” was typical of many pre-FSOL releases; the material was mostly acidic house and hardcore techno and to some extent, didn’t hold up to the test of time, though is still a good listen now and again. (see more on the Early Side Projects here). It’s safe to say that the genre difference between this EP and this new album, “The Woodlands of Old,” is vast. This is very similar to what the duo did when they brought back their Amorphous Androgynous guise for the release of “Isness”—it was a huge difference from “Liquid Insects.” It certainly makes me wonder if other old projects might arise from their sleep to find new life, like Candese or Art Science Technology (Mental Cube and Smart Systems recently have already!).
So, eighteen years after “Fuzzy Logic,” we have 21 new tracks to blast! Finally…
Right away, you’ll notice this isn’t your typical FSOL or Amorphous Androgynous album. This ins’t happy and wild psyche rock or adventurous ambient music by any stretch of the imagination. It’s noisy, fairly organic and wildly abstract. I’m hearing elements of world music/traditional instrumentations fused with textured and often distorted or reversed psyche guitar riffs, a blending of electronica beats with organic drums, and a very subtle dripping of electronic squiggles, bleeps, chirps and dings. It makes me realize that this project wouldn’t fit under their two main guises, and given that Yage was always sort of enigmatic and mysterious to many of us fans, it made sense to use this project to showcase this effort.
Hearing this makes me think a bomb exploded over the world of sound and the aforementioned genres were all that was left. Of course, they became bizarre mutations or musically feral hybrids that began to make their new home in the new growth forest that slowly reclaimed the land. Tracks like “An Odd Question from the Forest Bird,” and “The Hunters Moon” reflect this greatly. Some tracks are very dark and lean a little more on electronic influences, like “Crow Hushing the Floating Woods.” This track is also the only one that remotely resembles a classic FSOL track, which I am sure wasn’t the intent. Some tracks, like “Circle the Corn,” are astoundingly bizarre and bare harsh fangs born of electronic and musically organic parents. These are dark, still, but flow in such unexpected directions that it really challenges the listener.
Though a bit noisy, “Centipede” has the grooviest feel. A slow acoustic bass lick and slow beat (almost reminiscent of “Smokin’ Japanese Babe”) lure the listeners back in. Some textured and distorted guitar licks kick us around here as well, hinting a bit of some of “ISDNs” more adventurous side. Maybe it’s the higher pitched guitar swooshes that make me recollect those earlier bits. “Haxaal’s Dream,” on the other hand, features dribbling guitars and some music box samples fused with sounds fresh from a deep dream of sorts, and on the other end of the spectrum, “Heavily He Flies,” scuttles off with a clunky beat, loud and twangy ethno-strings and hushed electronic synth pads. It is one extreme to another in less than ten minutes.
We round out the album with the surprisingly mellow “The Sun Lends Warmth and Comfort” and the choppy and loud “A Welcome Beneath Night’s Darkness.” These tracks are polar opposites but are held together by that theme of the album—that being that this ebbs and flows between wildly experimental world music and electronic psyche explosions and quieter, gentler world music and mellower electronic murmurings.
Wow, all I have to say is wow. I’m both impressed and flummoxed. This album covered a lot of ground in a direction I don’t think FSOL had explored before. Some tracks I love, and at times, I feel like I’m listening to something that could have been released on the Beta-Lactam Ring label and then, a few tracks later, something that resembles FSOL or Amorphous Androgynous slightly but enough so that I can kind of tell it’s them. While this albums is good, it may take a few listens more to completely unravel and get used to. I have a feeling that ten years from now, I will spin this album and still find something new that I haven’t heard or noticed before.
Should you buy this? For the casual FSOL fan, this album may just be a bit to wild, feral and intense. It can be very noisy and come off as a festival where every animal in the forest was invited to and at times, it can be the complete opposite of that, and that’ll just be a few tracks apart from each other. In a sense, that makes me feel like there wasn’t a real focus to this album, especially when compared to earlier FSOL albums. Still, judging this as a standalone piece as it was intended, the ideas and execution weren’t bad at all, but I feel it needs some fine tweaking hither and thither. The segues are a bit jarring and the flow gets interrupted a bit between tracks, which is a bit surprising since FSOL tends to be the expert at segues. However, for fans who’ve been hot on the duo’s trail for a while and are used to the genre hopping, this won’t come off as too much of a shock for you and may be easier to digest. Fans of modern experimental psyche acts might find this accessible as well.
It does seem that since the inception of the Pod Room, the band has become a lot more experimental and have been resurrecting old projects or creating new ones to explore these new paths and ideas. I guess after nearly twenty-five years, some new territory needs to get explored. It makes me wonder if Yage will see a second full length in the future or if this project will take another ten year nap while other projects take off. All in all, this has been a very wild ride.
4.15 out of 5.